Triangular partnerships are changing traditional aid relations

Trilateral Development Cooperation (TDC) is a promising new concept that has the potential to revolutionize the system of international development cooperation. TDC is a triangular partnership between a traditional donor (as determined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee), an emerging donor, and a low-income country. The traditional donor provides significant funding while the emerging donor provides project management and technical expertise, and the beneficiary country owns and participates actively in the project. By dividing responsibilities, partners in TDC can make the best use of their comparative advantages. Such an arrangement has the potential to harness the energies and expertise of Southern partners, and reshape development relations in more egalitarian ways.

The rise of TDC is a reflection of the recent power shifts in the international system and the rise of emerging powers like Brazil, China, and India. The rise of centers of power outside of the United States has meant strengthened multilateralism that is increasingly influenced by South-South Cooperation. The traditional aid model developed by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee has set certain criteria that define aid and measure its flows from “donors” to “recipients.” Much of emerging power’s financial flows to Africa do not fall within this criteria, and so has not been counted as official “aid.” Such non-traditional “aid” flows include loan guarantees, foreign direct investment, and private investment. Another key element of traditional aid has included conditionalities that are often concerned with promoting human rights and certain governance norms. Thus the novelty of TDC lies in its attempt to help reconfigure and enrich the system of international development cooperation by acting as a bridge between South–South and North– South cooperation.

In the African context, Brazil has emerged as the leader of TDC efforts. Brazil’s approach to Africa is markedly different from other emerging powers: the largest population of Black diasporic people outside of Africa live in Brazil, and several African countries share the same historical colonizer, Portugal, with Brazil. These historical connections have been strengthened by Brazil’s political goals toward enhancing South-South principles on the international stage as well as the promotion of Brazil’s economic interests in Africa. Brazil presents itself as a friend to Africa, and this relationship is rooted in principles of solidarity, demand-driven action, and non-interference in internal affairs. In this way, Brazil is offering a potential alternative to traditional modes of aid, and uses this approach as a strategic tool of diplomacy.

Perhaps the most referenced example of TDC in the African context is the Prosavana case in Mozambique, a trilateral partnership between Brazil, Japan, and Mozambique to increase agricultural productivity. In addition to creating a platform for synergies in technical expertise, this TDC arrangement allowed Brazilian technical cooperation to be complemented by financial cooperation provided by Japan, a traditional donor. Another example of a TDC project in Africa is “The Public Sector Training and Development Project in Post‐Conflict Countries” involving Rwanda, Burundi, and Southern Sudan as the beneficiary countries supported by Canada, the OECD-DAC donor, and South Africa, an emerging power. The purpose of this initiative is to “support public sector training and development” aiming to improve service delivery in the three post-conflict countries. Though it is too early to draw definitive conclusions, partners’ opinions are very positive regarding the project.

For an African emerging power like South Africa, there are clear economic benefits in providing development assistance to other African countries to promote stability and greater regional integration. TDC allows South Africa, as well as other emerging powers, to circumvent its own financing limitations by drawing on the substantial financing capabilities of Northern donors. TDC also enables South Africa to play an increasing role on the continent while lowering the costs of engagement. South African post-conflict assistance in countries such as DRC, Burundi, and Sudan has often been followed by commercial flows.

TDC is often framed as a “win-win” relationship that will benefit developing countries, developed countries, and the world economy. It is hard to determine whether this statement is accurate as TDC is a very new concept and so there is limited evidence on its impact and effectiveness. But if TDC is implemented in a truly horizontal manner of partnership between all parties, then there is the potential for significantly increased African ownership and influence in development projects. Such African agency is critical to development projects being adapted to local African contexts and suited to African interests. If TDC is guided by strong African agency, then there is a great potential in improving the effectiveness of development assistance on the continent.